Transfiguration (Mt 17:1–9)

February 5, 2017
Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO


Transfiguration’s a big deal, but not in a way you might think. That’s our problem. We get caught up in glory clouds, in bright shining faces, in power, in thunderous voices from heaven. That’s Old Adam, though. Our flesh likes that sort of thing. We’re naturally attracted to power. It’s what’s Old Adam understands. At our core, it’s pretty much the one thing we understand naturally.

It’s what we want. We want power. We tend to think: the world would just be perfect if I were running it. The only thing that keeps our ambitions in check is someone with more smarts, more money, more popularity, more connections, or whatever. But it’s all power.

So we take that understanding of power, and we apply that to JESUS and God. Transfiguration seems to play right into that, but the glory of the Transfiguration isn’t the point. JESUS knows that. That’s what He says! “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” If that sort glory were the point, He wouldn’t have said, “Don’t tell anyone.” He wouldn’t’ve cared if they said anything. Why does JESUS say this? He says it because


That’s what our Old Adam doesn’t get. It’s certainly not our knee jerk answer to the question, “What’s JESUS’ glory?” But it is.


((I. The Transfiguration is the sort of glory we want or expect.))

Again, the problem is that the Transfiguration is the sort of glory we want or expect from God and JESUS. We expect glory to be some sort of spectacle, something that’s a show-stopper. The shining face of JESUS, at face value, seems to fit the bill for glory. “He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as the light.” Don’t get me wrong it is glorious, but is that the point? Is it JESUS’ point to flex His divine muscles and show off? Is that how God wants to be known in the Scriptures?

We tend to think the Transfiguration is all about how God is “so big, so absolutely huge” and powerful and strong, and that He shows His glory to impress us. You see, we like the mountaintop experience. Peter did! “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” We want that sort of experience, because that makes faith “real,” or so we think.

((II. It’s not a mountaintop but a hillside that’s important.))

But it’s not a mountaintop that’s important. In fact, staying on that mountain isn’t all that important. JESUS leads the disciples up and down that mountain as if it’s nothing at all. As quickly and quietly as they go up the mountain, they come right back down again.

Not only that, but if we just look at what happens with Peter, James, and John, we’ll see what glory produces. It produces fear and death. God’s naked glory always produces fear and death. We think that seeing such a glorious spectacle would work greater faith or something. But if we saw and heard things like happened on that mountain, we’d be terrified. “When the disciples heard [the voice,] they fell on their faces and were terrified.” They knew what the Lord had said, “No one can see My face and live.”

Such glory would terrify us, too. We still want it, though, and we must repent of our love of such outward glory, because it’s not a mountaintop that’s the point but a hillside.

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”

That’s what Matthew tells us in chapter 16 before he recounts the Transfiguration. The hill called “Golgotha,” the Place of the Skull, is what’s important. The empty hillside tomb three days after that is what’s important. The Christian faith is founded upon those two hills, what JESUS did there—His death and resurrection.

JESUS showed them that He would ascend a hill and He would be transfigured as He was transfixed on the cross. “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,” Isaiah says, “as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” But that hill, that cross would not be the end. He would rise from the dead, and He showed that to Peter, James, and John on the mount of transfiguration. They saw a foretaste of the Easter glory that JESUS would manifest, and that’s why JESUS said, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

His cross and empty tomb are the glory that JESUS’ wants known. He wants men to trust Him as the crucified and raised One, not as the one who holds all power and dominion. He certainly has those things. He’s God, after all, but He’s known and revealed and manifest in His cross and empty tomb.

((III. It’s a hidden glory.))

He wants to be known for His cross and empty tomb because God’s glory is a hidden glory. He wants to be known as the God who saves. So His glory is hidden on the gory hill of Golgotha, and His glory is revealed in an empty tomb.

For Him to hide His glory is nothing new. He hides His glory and power in His Word. There His power is at work to bring people to faith and to strengthen their faith. That’s why the study of His Word is so important and shouldn’t be ignored, but time should be made for it.

Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, appear with Christ. The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” He doesn’t say find Him in some mountaintop experience, but “listen to Him.” The Old and New Testaments give us JESUS’ Word and give us the opportunity to hear and listen to Him.

That’s exactly what Peter says in our Epistle lesson: “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” There JESUS is revealed to us. His glory is revealed to us: His death and resurrection—something promised and proclaimed through the Prophets. There His life is revealed and given to us to the strengthening of our faith unto life everlasting.

The Prophets bear witness to JESUS’ salvation, His forgiveness, not only won on the cross but delivered in His Gifts. In JESUS’ Gifts His glory is hidden yet again. But here He delivers what we most need: the forgiveness of sins. In His Gifts we hear His voice, and when we receive them, as often as we receive them, no matter how often we receive, there’s no end to receiving them, because when we do, we are “listening to Him.” For He Himself said, “Do this.” Do what? “Take eat My body, take drink My blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

JESUS’ TRUE GLORY IS HIS CROSS AND EMPTY TOMB. We get a preview of that today. A truly glorified JESUS is the crucified and raised JESUS. That’s what He wants to make known. We need to repent of our wanting outward power and glory, of wanting some sort of life-altering experience. The true life-altering experience is JESUS rising from the dead! Think of it: there’s only two sure things, two unalterable things in life—taxes and death. Everyone dies and stays dead. JESUS was dead and then He wasn’t! How much more life-altering can you get? He gives that life you. He will give it to you on the Last Day, but, in the mean time, He reaches you, touches you, feeds you with His body and blood to forgive you your sins. There JESUS gives forgiveness for looking for other glory. Then He says, “Rise. Have no fear.” “Depart in peace.”


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